Monthly Archives: August 2011

Preaching Like a River vs. Preaching Like Waves on the Seashore

This past Sunday, our church (Boone’s Creek Baptist Church) was invited by Second Independent Missionary Baptist Church for a joint service to celebrate their 157th Homecoming.  Second Independent is an African-American church pastored by Rev. Eugene Turner, who has served as pastor of that church for over 20 years.  Even though over 25 years separates us age-wise (I will be 40 in October, he will be 68 that same month), we have become brothers in the ministry. 

I had the pleasure of hearing him preach in Trinidad when our churches joined together to go on-mission to help Mt. Beulah Evangelical Baptist in Point Fortin plant a church in an unreached area in Rancho Quemado.  I compared this to the sermon I heard Roddie Taylor preach last night—as well as with the style of preaching by which I preach (I had the privilege to preach yesterday morning at Second Independent).  In the midst of this, I began to analyze the different methods.  I use the metaphors of the river and the waves on the seashore.

Preaching Like a River

Rivers run smoothly from head out into the delta.  Not a lot of bumps, seldom if any rapids in the delivery—just faithfully moving things along to where it opens up into the larger body of water (like the Nile into the Mediterranean, the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico, or the Amazon River into the Atlantic Ocean). 

Preachers who preach like this run steadily and smoothly to an end in mind so that the truth of God’s Word (by the Spirit) would open up in the heart of the listener.  Every so often, there is the ‘river rapids’ in the delivery, but eventually it smoothes out as the sermon takes you on that journey.  They may not get a lot of “Amens” or “Go on, preacher” and they may not be told they preach with “fire,” but they press on toward the goal before them—faithfulness to the Word of God. 

Preaching Like Waves on the Ocean

Think about the waves on an oceanocean_waves-1230.  Rhythmically, repeatedly, without fail, they keep coming and coming, emphasizing its presence and power with each crash.  No fluff, no fanfare—just coming at you with force and effectiveness. 

I almost entitled this “preaching like a machine gun” or “preaching with a punch.”  This type of preaching is not so much an unfolding of “the big idea” as it is bringing out certain principles and driving it home in an effective cadence and rhythm that just builds until the point is driven home—and then it starts over again.  Some excellent examples of this type of preaching is anything from Tim Keller

In listening to a sermon by Roddie Taylor from Trinidad yesterday, he was talking about prayer.  He would say (not directly quoting, but pretty close), “Churches do not need to be about being therapists.  Churches do not need to be about programs.  Churches do not need to be about the world’s business.  What … churches … need … to… be about … is praaaayer!”  The rhythm of the preaching rose and fell with such effectiveness that it took you on a different type of journey than that of a river than inspiring the emotions to action.  For a great example of this, listen to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech! 

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Telling JWs About the Deity of Christ—From Their Scriptures

One of the more difficult things for orthodox Christians to do is speak with Jehovah’s Witnesses (also known as the Watchtower Society).  Their Awake! magazines have a total worldwide printing of 39 million per year. Why do we struggle?  For one, we often do not know how to approach them or what to say to many of their presentations (they are very studious, studying hours per day on their own beliefs and countering the beliefs of orthodox Christians).   They get more converts from Southern Baptists than any other religious group.

They use a different version of the Scriptures (the New World Translation), have different meanings of salvation, heaven, eternal life, forgiveness. More importantly, they view the Trinity, and especially the person and work of Jesus far differently.  To the JWs, Jesus is merely the Archangel Michael in human form—a created being, not the creator and sustainer of all (Colossians 1:15-17). 

Options are available as to how to treat them. You can:

  • Slam the door in their faces—not knowing that they believe they have suffered for Jesus in this mode of persecution;
  • You can engage them on the front doorstep with your Bible and them using theirs;
  • You can bring them in, almost assuring they will continue to come back for the next few weeks or so.

A member of my church has engaged in speaking with JWs at her home.  They have come back three weeks in a row and are now back for Week 4.  Here is some information I shared with her on how to deal with JWs on this particular issue of the deity of Christ from their own Scriptures!

In regards to the deity of Christ, the Jehovah’s Witnesses removed every connection between Jesus and Him being worshiped, since only Jehovah can be worshiped.  But even so, you can use their Bible (as deviant and perverted as it is) to show them that Jesus is fully God.  The following is something very simple you can do with them when they come by… but first, some ground rules.

  1. They study hours per day not only to help them know what they believe, but to counter any arguments from orthodox Christians, so you will have a hard time (as do I, to be honest) fighting them on their ground. They will bog you down in particulars and get you confused. So going through this stuff with them line by line will not change their minds nor yours. 
  2. If you go in there trying to win and be right like I used to, you will risk the opportunity like I did to share the gospel. There’s a difference between proving someone wrong for the win and winning them to Christ.
  3. Keep it simple. Here are some steps using ‘their’ Bible (the New World Translation) that can be used to show them the key to the whole thing: Jesus. They believe he is the incarnation of the archangel Michael rather than the second person of the Trinity.

Let’s begin.  First, start with Hebrews 1:5-6 from their version:

“For example, to which one of the angels did he ever say: “You are my son; I, today, I have become your father”? And again: “I myself shall become his father, and he himself will become my son”? 6 But when he again brings his Firstborn into the inhabited earth, he says: “And let all God’s angels do obeisance to him.”

[NOTE: the word obeisance in our Scriptures is worship… this is a passage that says Jesus is to be ‘worshipped’ as God, not simply respected or paid obeisance. They changed the word, but don’t bring that up.  Even with this, you can make your case.]

Then go to Luke 4:5-8:


5 So he brought him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth in an instant of time; 6 and the Devil said to him: “I will give you all this authority and the glory of them, because it has been delivered to me, and to whomever I wish I give it. 7 You, therefore, if you do an act of worship before me, it will all be yours.” 8In reply Jesus said to him: “It is written, ‘It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.’”

[NOTE: Jehovah God you must worship. Emphasize that. Tell them they are correct in that. Yes!]

Then go to John 20:25-28:

25 Consequently the other disciples would say to him: “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them: “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails and stick my finger into the print of the nails and stick my hand into his side, I will certainly not believe.”
26 Well, eight days later his disciples were again indoors, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and he stood in their midst and said: “May YOU have peace.” 27 Next he said to Thomas: “Put your finger here, and see my hands, and take your hand and stick it into my side, and stop being unbelieving but become believing.” 28 In answer Thomas said to him: “My Lord and my God!”

[NOTE: They will say that Thomas is not worshiping Jesus, but merely exclaiming an expression like we all do. But note to them that Jesus did not rebuke Thomas for taking His name in vain. He called him ‘blessed’ in verse 29. But keep going…]

Next, go to Isaiah 44:6:

“6 “This is what Jehovah has said, the King of Israel and the Repurchaser of him, Jehovah of armies, ‘I am the first and I am the last, and besides me there is no God.”

[Emphasis there is no God besides Jehovah–the one who is the First and the Last. Now go in for the true point to all this.

Lastly, go to Revelation 1:17-18:

17 And when I saw him, I fell as dead at his feet.
And he laid his right hand upon me and said: “Do not be fearful. I am the First and the Last, 18 and the living one; and I became dead, but, look! I am living forever and ever, and I have the keys of death and of Ha´des.

[NOTE: Ask them, if it’s true that Jehovah is the first and last and besides him there is no other, tell me: when did God die? Likely, they may stumble for an answer, but they will have none. It is there that you share that Jesus is the Son of God and God the Son who died for our sins. It’s not by what we do to earn favor, it’s by God the Son dying for the forgiveness of sins.

If they continue to ask questions about this, great. If God is moving, lead them to Christ.  Otherwise, I would respectfully suggest that you share the gospel with them as best you can, then say that there is nothing they can say that will convince you to turn from the the gospel you know to be true and ask them not to come back. 

What have you used in the past to engage JWs? 

Categories: apologetics, Jehovah's Witnesses | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Ten Commandments for Preachers

Sinclair Ferguson, a theologian I highly respect for his mind and pastor’s heart, gives ten commandments for preachers.  Here is how he starts the article:

Listening to or reading the reflections of others on preaching is, for most preachers, inherently interesting and stimulating (whether positively or negatively). These reflections then are offered in the spirit of the Golden Rule and only because the Editor is a long-standing friend!

Forty years exactly have passed since my first sermon in the context of a Sunday service. Four decades is a long time to have amassed occasions when going to the church door after preaching is the last thing one wants to do—even if one loves the congregation (sometimes precisely because one loves the congregation and therefore the sense of failure is all the greater!). How often have I had to ask myself, “How is it possible to have done this thousands of times and still not do it properly?”

Yes, I know how to talk myself out of that mood! “It’s faithfulness, not skill, that really matters.” “How you feel has nothing to do with it!” “Remember you’re sowing seed.” “It’s ultimately the Lord who preaches the word into people’s hearts, not you.” All true. Yet we are responsible to make progress as preachers, indeed evident and visible, or at least audible progress (1 Tim 4:13, 15 is an instructive and searching word in this respect!).

All of this led me while traveling one day to reflect on this: What Ten Commandments, what rule of preaching-life, do I wish someone had written for me to provide direction, shape, ground rules, that might have helped me keep going in the right direction and gaining momentum in ministry along the way?

Once one begins thinking about this, whatever Ten Commandments one comes up with, it becomes obvious that this is an inexhaustible theme. My friend, the Editor, could easily run his journal for a year with a whole series of “My Ten Commandments for Preaching.” I offer these ten, not as infallible, but as the fruit of a few minutes of quiet reflection on a plane journey.

  1. Know your Bible better.
  2. Be a man of prayer.
  3. Do not lose sight of Christ.
  4. Be deeply trinitarian.
  5. Use your imagination.
  6. Speak much of sin and grace.
  7. Use the “plain style.”
  8. Find your own voice. 
  9. Learn how to transition.
  10. Love your people.

Read the rest of the article to see how he fleshes out this list. 

(HT: Justin Taylor)

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Why Revival Services Are Still Important

As you know, each Spring we have our yearly revival services where we prayerfully bring in a speaker who is faithful to the Word of God and reliant on the Spirit of God as he is used by God to preach to the people of God and woo souls into the Kingdom of God (got all that?). This year, our revival services kick off with a youth rally on Saturday, March 17, followed by services on the 18th-21st (Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m., then Sunday night through Wednesday night beginning at 7:00 p.m.).

Recently, my good friend Mark Combs (who is pastor of Summit Community Church in Hazard) and I were having an interesting conversation about revival services. Growing up, I always took them for granted. We discussed how oftentimes it seems as if people wrongly mistook revival services as an appropriate (and often only) time to engage in evangelistic work — and even then, it is done by the musicians and the preachers, not necessarily by the people of the church.

Because of this misuse of revival services, we as young pastors try to avoid singing the “because-that’s-what-we’ve-always-done-before” blues. As a result, this conversation made me contemplate this one simple question: “Are revival services still a good thing?” Have they outgrown their usefulness? Have we moved on to other more productive types of ministries and meetings?

Since I’ve been at Boone’s Creek, we have had revival services each Spring. These revival services have been good for the brothers and sisters in Christ in our church for a number of reasons.

Revival Services are an Initiated Time in the Word

I am convinced after being in the ministry for fifteen years that we must be proactive in readying ourselves for when the Spirit of God chooses to move on his people. Too many well-intentioned evangelicals who love Jesus and want to see souls saved and see Christians committed to their Lord and his church make the mistake of thinking they can manipulate situations through preaching or other special events which will be key in having folks “come to Jesus.” We think we can tell the Spirit when to move, but we just can’t.

You see Jesus himself tells us in John 3:7-8: “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’” We do not know when the Spirit of God will move. This is on God’s timetable — not an activity or a movement that can be manipulated by any human. Too many folks look down on revival services for that reason —- too many man-centered churches using man-centered techniques.

Yet (having said all that), what we are responsible for is getting ourselves ready when he does choose to move. We must certainly be proactive as individuals and as a community of faith to get our vessels ready. When we expect company, we make a full-fledged effort to get our houses ready. Revival services serve that function: where a people of God initiate a time in the Word of God so that when his Spirit moves, we are ready because the Word has readied us.

First Corinthians 2:3-5 sums this up beautifully:

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.


Revival Services are an Anticipated Time in the Word

Whenever we schedule a revival service, we obviously find a Spirit-led speaker who will come ready to open up God’s Word. About two months prior to this, we begin to promote these special services, giving our people a chance to anticipate this special time in the Lord.

During this promotion time, we must be careful. How easy it would be to promote special singers, special fellowship dinners, or even to promote the preacher delivering the Word of God. This year, Bro. Mike Caudill from First Baptist Church, Hindman, KY, will be our guest preacher. Mike has a pastor’s heart with a passion to see people come to Christ and know God through his holy Word.

Yet we cannot elevate the people and events in the service above the reason why we have these special services: to be reawakened to the glories of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be motivated by those glories to put feet to our faith. This is what we must anticipate. This is what we must promote. Not people, places, or events —- we must promote Jesus Christ who is the Gospel. Hear Jesus’ words from the Gospel of John

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me … How can you believe, when you receive glory from one an other and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God (John 5:39, 44, ESV)?

Revival Services are a Concentrated Time in the Word

Revival services are about concentrating on the Spirit of Christ reawakening our heart to the joy of the Gospel. We believe the Gospel is not simply a set of facts we have to hold to to get to heaven. If that were the case, the Pharisees would be knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door before all others. No, the Gospel is a way of life, something that the Christian must continually preach to himself in order to live a life of worship before God not just in church but in all areas and in all relationships. Revival services (or whatever you choose to call them), are four days and five services of redirecting our focus on Christ who we pray will awaken our hearts to a passion and a delight for himself.

In our culture, it is impossible to concentrate on any one thing. We have so many options. I sit here at my computer and can be distracted by e-mail, iTunes, web pages with sermons and news items, telephone, and even men hammering outside as they install their windows. I can go home and be distracted again by phones as well as television, books, and a myriad of other household activities. We are an ADD/ADHD culture who seeks to either multitasks or impatiently moves on to another project when the original project bores us. C.S. Lewis noted that “we are far too easily pleased.” I would add that our culture is far too easily bored and distracted.

Revival services give us an opportunity to focus and concentrate on the Word of God (the Scriptures) that shows us the Word of God (Jesus Christ —- John 1:1). God has used these revival services to help change lives if for no other reason that to help us concentrate for these few services during the week on His Word.

Ever notice how those who go off to a Christian camp or on a missions trip seem changed when they come back? They have concentrated that particular time on Kingdom work and Kingdom thoughts. This revival service can serve in just that way.

The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Revival Services are an Extended Time in the Word

How long does one have revival services? Generations ago, no one would think twice about having a two-week long set of meetings where God would visit and do awesome things for the Kingdom of Christ. Nowadays, three or four day meetings are typical. Why so long?

We are creatures of habit and routine, are we not? It takes humans very little time to adjust to a situation — and when we do, it takes just as much time to adjust back to the original setting. Having revival services for an extended amount of time is key for our constitutional make-up. We often need a day or two to get the ‘self’ out of the way so we may be receptive vessels to receive God’s Spirit. Oftentimes, these extended times enlighten us as to how must ‘self’ has clouded our communion with Christ and our siblings in Christ, as well as our communication with God in worship and prayer.

This year, our revival services are from March 18-21. This means we will have two services on Sunday (normal), then a service on Monday night (OK, that’s weird having church on Monday, but … o-k, I’ll come), then Tuesday night (“You know, God really touched me on Monday night — I wonder what he will do tonight!”), then finally Wednesday night (“I know this is normally prayer meeting night and I usually don’t make it to that, but this is the last night of the services, and God’s really awakening my heart — I must come tonight to see how these times will end”).

Yet, they do not end, do they? It would be ludicrous to say, “OK, the revival services have ended — now back to business as usual.” If you have anticipated and prepared your heart spiritually for what God purposes in your heart, then your business as usual will become one who lives a life eyes wide open, awakened to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the
counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers
(Psalm 1:1-3, ESV)

Revival Services are an Edifying Time in the Word

Face it —- we’re selfish. We spend our time simply trying to figure out how to improve our personal situation. Too many come to church to have their personal needs met or to ‘get a blessing’ or to figure out how to ‘get right with the man upstairs’ (a dangerous expression if there ever was one). It’s inward-focused. It’s all personal.

And it’s not biblical.

Yes, Christ did die on the cross so that we as individuals may come to him and be reconciled to him by grace through faith (Romans 3:24-26). Yet in the Scriptures, our lives are never divorced from the community of faith known as the Church. And our lives are never separated from the world in which God placed us.

Look at Paul’s heart in Romans 9:1-3

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

You may read that and say, “Huh? Paul, are you willing to forfeit your salvation so your kinsmen of Israel may know Jesus?” That’s his passion —- and if you read through the book of Acts, you see his great effort in the power of the Spirit to go to the Gentiles so they may know the great salvation provided in Christ —- often to the expense of his own personal safety.

While revival services were never intended to be the sole evangelistic role a church plays, these services most certainly open eyes to our need to see the lost as Christ sees. We see the shepherd in Luke 15 who leaves the 99 sheep to go find the lost one —- and a party ensues over the finding of the lost sheep. This is the heart of God and it must be our heart as well.

Hear this: revival services are for Christians, not the lost. You cannot be re-vived until you have been ‘vived.’ You cannot be re-awakened until you have come out of your sin and slumber to your situation through faith in Christ’s work on the cross. When we are reawakened, we take that passion into the mission field God has placed us: work, home, school, travel, bowling alleys, golf courses, fishing holes, supermarkets —- everywhere. This is how Christ’s body works.

Conclusion

I am not against revival services —- I’m against man-centered, man-manipulated, entertainment-driven, and ill-focused revival services. May God tune our hearts to sing his grace as we seek all seek to be tuned to the Holy Spirit of God —- with His Word as our tuning fork. Hope to see you at the revival services this coming March.

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How Long Should Sermons Be?

Brian Croft helps us sort through this!  Worth the read!

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A Biblical Case Against Gambling (Hershael York)

Hershael W York (Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching (1997); Associate Dean, Ministry and Proclamation / B.A., M.A., University of Kentucky M.Div., Ph.D., Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary)

A dear pastor friend of mine who, like me, finds himself of necessity involved in trying to keep casino gambling out of Kentucky asked me to share some biblical reasons why I believe gambling is wrong. I actually wrote most of the following in 2005 and it was published in the Western Recorder, the official newsmagazine of Kentucky Baptists. In order that it might contribute to the debate that now consumes our state, as well as inform some of my students who think it an adiapherous avocation, I share it once again with the conviction that a follower of Christ has no business gambling.

Simply put, gambling is sin.

If no passage of Scripture explicitly forbids it, can we with confidence claim that gambling is wrong, a moral evil, sin? With good reason, Christians are hesitant to label sins that the Bible doesn’t mention, yet we often have to distill principles from the Bible that we apply to contemporary situations. Pornography, computer hacking, or cheating on tests aren’t mentioned in the Bible either, yet believers who want to live like Jesus know intuitively and correctly that these behaviors run counter to the will of God. While biblical texts may not mention them explicitly, biblical principles speak to them directly.

In the same way, the ethics of Scripture clearly teach that gambling is wrong and a sin against God, not for one single reason but for many. The slot machine, casino, or poker table are not for believers submitted to the Lordship of Christ.

Many Christians object that if they budget a certain amount of their discretionary entertainment funds for gambling and don’t go beyond that, what’s the harm? After all, Christian people waste money on all kinds of diversions. Far from convincing me that gambling is not necessarily wrong, this particular argument actually confirms it in my mind, because it reveals a complete disregard for what one’s participation in gambling does to others. This argument reveals a self-centeredness and lack of concern for weaker brothers and sisters that believers ought to find disturbing (Romans 14:21). In reality, even Christians who are not personally hurt by it are not free to participate in an industry that preys on the weak and the poor.

The Bible is full of references to God’s view of economics. In the garden of Eden, even before sin entered the world, God established a work ethic by which humanity was to exist (Genesis 1:28-30) Part of God’s creation of man in His own image was that man would work for his food. While God provided it, Adam and Eve had to exercise “dominion” over the plants and animals and till the soil, working for their sustenance. After they sinned, work changed to a more laborious task, but it remained the way God provided for them. In other words, God’s way is that we should earn what we get.

Think about these reasons why gambling violates Christian principles:

Working and investing for a living is based on a win/win scenario, but gambling is always win/lose. God put His stamp of approval on commerce and work. When a carpenter builds a cabinet and gets paid, both parties win. One of them gets the cabinets she wanted, and one of them gets the money he desired. They can both feel good about the transaction. Not so with gambling. Someone always loses and pays a price.

Gambling is motivated by greed. Let’s be honest and admit that greed lies at the heart of all gambling. The desire to get something for nothing is really another name for covetousness (Exodus 20:17; Prov. 21:25-26).

Gambling is a wasteful use of the Lord’s money. I doubt that many Christians who gamble tithe, but even if they do, New Testament Christians understand that God doesn’t have the right to only ten percent of our money, but all of it. Even though I am a tither, I am still required to be a steward of all I have because it belongs to God. I am no freer to gamble with God’s money than I am with anyone else’s. Even though others might waste the Lord’s money on equally frivolous things, their sin doesn’t excuse mine.

Gambling shows a lack of love for my neighbor. If I really love my neighbor, I want only what is for his good (Matt. 22:39, 1 Cor. 10:24). When legislators talk about putting casinos on the state line so we can prey on the greed and weakness of our neighbors, they reveal the harmful assault that gambling really is. Can I in good conscience support something that preys on the weaknesses and indulges the worst instincts of the precious people around me?

Gambling fails to consider innocent families. We might be tempted to think that if a person gambles away all of his money, then that is his problem and serves him right. But what of his ten-year-old son who can’t afford school supplies? What of his wife who has to work to pay off the credit cards she didn’t even know she had? What of his ailing parents who cannot count on his help in their senior years? What of his daughter’s college education? Proverbs 15:27 says “A greedy man brings trouble to his family,” and nowhere is that more obvious than in the gambling industry.

Gambling shows no concern for God’s glory. A Jesus-follower should try to glorify God in everything (1 Cor. 10:31), and use his or her money to accomplish good for the kingdom (Matt. 6:19-21, 24).

Gambling is not an act of faith but a game of chance. Paul wrote that “Everything that is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). The Christian life is to be lived in dependence on God to meet all needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).

Jesus wouldn’t do it. Can you picture Jesus sitting at a slot machine with a cup full of quarters? He was interested in doing His Father’s business, alleviating suffering and grief, not contributing to it.

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Praying for Servant Leaders

[This was preached at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY.  You can listen to the mp3 here.]

When I first came into the ministry, I remember my mentor (Pastor Chris) telling me something that used to happen quit often among his friends. Each Wednesday, he and his friends would go out to the local Pizza Hut for pizza. One of these men had a certain trick he would do when the pizza arrive. He would spot the biggest piece of the pie—and spit on it! You heard me correctly! This went on for weeks.

One day, one of them had an idea. They went to the Pizza Hut again. Again the pizza came. Again, this man marked his territory and said, “Dibs on that one!” To his surprise, another one at the table spit on that same piece of pizza and said, “It’s all yours!”

There is something in human nature that wants to have what we want when we want it—to have the biggest slice of the pie, to get there first, to be the best. No matter how well our intentions or how well we may tell ourselves and others the contrary, we have to fight our human nature to be #1.

That’s why we need to pray for our church to have servant leaders. To many in our world, those seem like opposites. You can’t be a servant and be a leader—and you can’t be a leader if you’re a servant. Someone forgot to notify Jesus of this when he told his disciples this:

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45).

Those whom God has placed in leadership in the church must recognize they are called to be servants in the church. It’s not about position, it’s about a passion for God and His people. It’s about a passion for the gospel, for Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many, leading the way in service.

The coming two Sundays, our congregation has agreed to and has codified this in our Constitution and By-Laws to nominate men to serve as deacons. These are men who have already been demonstrating service—in fact, the word ‘deacon’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘servant’ and this word is used in other places as a key attribute to Christian living. These men must members at our church for three years or more, and abide by the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:8-13 (which I will read through later). But the first ‘deacons’ came about here in Acts 6 that arose out of a practical need. Let read about that need and how they responded:

6:1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Servant leaders in the church meet the physical and spiritual needs of God’s people!

The Problem: The Need That Arose

The disciples had an interesting issue that many of us would love to face: they were “increasing in number” (v. 1). That’s good! The power of the Word of God as reinforced by signs and wonders were drawing many in to saving faith in Jesus Christ. They were turning from their sins and turning to the only true Savior! They had been marked by unity, being of one accord.

But a practical, physical need arose that threatened this unity. This is the first issue to arise on a large scale within the Christian community. “ … a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution” (v. 1b).

Some wrongly say that complaining is bad. Some complaining is bad, when it comes from a selfish motive. That was not the case here. It’s important for leaders to sift through the complaining and prioritize. Some leaders dismiss any complaints, and thus isolate their people. Some leaders listen to every single complaint as if it’s all of equally valid, and thus lack discernment and fail to lead. One person can hijack the entire thing!

The apostles were wise, discerning, and Spirit-filled leaders! They heard the complaint, saw that it was necessary to address that issue immediately. In the process, something wonderful arose that would show the nature of the church of Jesus Christ!

Yet, there are three ways to deal with a complaint!  To be clear, I don’t have any particular episode in mind, just some general reflections from 20 years of ministry and 40 years (come October) of living.

Ignore it.  Just don’t address it at all.  Say to yourself that any complainer must be carnal and move on to those who don’t complain because non-complainers are Spirit-filled and love Jesus.  That’s not only bad leadership, that just plain silly.  (Of course, one has to take into consideration if this is coming from a Son-of-Diotrephes effect, of which Joe McKeever deals with beautifully.)

Internalize it.  Here is the polar opposite of ignoring it.  Take every complaint to heart, because regardless of what happens at a church or any business, if you’re the leader, it’s always a reflection on you and therefore your fault.  Another way to internalize it is personally:  every complaint you hear is equally valid.  One complaint about a program or a direction in the church grinds everything to a halt.  This is especially true if the aim of the church is to make everyone happy, forgetting that the aim of the church is to glorify God and produce Christ-like, Spirit-filled disciples. 

Investigate it.  Yes!  This one!  No blanket categorizing need apply here!  See the nature of the complaint—it may teach you something!  I shudder at times when I have not listened to a complaint when I should have!  Sort through the complaint and see if it’s just a personal preference or if it’s a significant issue that could effect the spiritual direction of the body of Christ.  This is what the apostles did—and what we as leaders must do! What did they do?

First, they saw the need to take care of the widows. With widows in that culture, when their husbands died, by virtue of the men being the ones who provided the livelihood and by virture of them being old and being women—they did not have much of a place in that society. They were overlooked and were outcast. As we saw from Luke 18 with the persistent widow and how she continually asked that judge for justice until he finally wore her down. Judges didn’t help those who couldn’t provide some benefit to them.

Secondly, they saw that more than one group of people would make up the body of Christ. Consider that the “Hellenists” were involved. On my first trip to Trinidad while in seminary, we spent two weeks doing music missions. One week was in San Fernando, much like where we have gone as a church. The second week was in the city in Port of Spain—one of the more difficult weeks I’ve had doing missions. It was Saturday and we were in the city. We had split up our team of about five or six to go and do some shopping, but we were to meet around 2 at the church. Within 10 minutes, I found myself alone in downtown Port of Spain in a country I’d never been in having a hard time understanding the Trinidadian/Caribbean English. So you know what I did?

I went to McDonald’s. Why? Two reasons: one, it was familiar, even if the meat there was a little suspect. And two, I knew that I would see another white face from our team soon. Within 15 minutes I did.

You see, these Hellenistic widow had a double whammy in their lives. They were widows, and they spoke a different language than did the Apostles who spoke both Hebrew and Aramaic. By nature, we gravitate toward those who share our language, our speaking habits, our slang, and our cultural tendencies. They may not have intended to exclude them, but one can understand how this happened.

The Solution: Servant Leaders Serving Differently

“Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering” (Acts 6:3-4a).

Here we see something beautiful. We see the leadership of the apostles who had a clear understanding of their calling! Their calling was ‘prayer and … the ministry of the word.” Please understand, this is not saying that this is all that church leaders do. But with pastors, this is the primary calling! Not the only thing pastors are to do, but the primary task!

Also, notice that these seven men had their calling as well—to take care of the physical duties of the members of the church. This was their ministry. Their calling!

But understand something: the ministry and service of these seven men in waiting tables and making sure the widows were fed; and the word ‘ministry’ of the word both come from the same root in the Greek. Both serve! Both minister! Both sought the glory of God, both sought to strengthen the people of God, both sought to share the gospel of God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Yet both serve in different ways. The apostles serve as the overseers and leaders of the church, the undershepherds of the church of Christ. The deacons serve as servants to the physical needs of the church.

Consider the story of Jethro and Moses in Exodus 18.

13 The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” 15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; 16 when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. 19 Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, 20 and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”

24 So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 26 And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves. 27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went away to his own country.

No doubt this parallels and influenced how the disciples felt and structured how they dealt with these issues. These men were ones who had already shown their faithfulness. Just Jethro advised Moses to look for men who fear God.

Dear friends, when you nominate a deacon, look for one already faithful in service. Read 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Look at their faithfulness to the Word of God, their faithfulness to service of the church, their dignity, see how they manage their household and whether they exert spiritual authority in service to their families. Look at their wives, because the wives are not only along for the ride but are key in ministry. A spiritual maturity is needed on both the husbands and the wives. Pray they are ones who tithe, for how hypocritical would that be if a deacon would use money tithed to the Lord’s service and have a say-so in how it was spent, and yet didn’t contribute to that storehouse tithe to begin with! Don’t look at how well they do the business of the world (although that can help), look at how well they do the business of the Kingdom. Because mark my word, if a deacon is nominated and voted upon based upon popularity rather than service already demonstrated, his nomination and election will not change his level of service, it will only reinforce what is already there.

Conclusion

His name is Bill. He has wild hair, wears a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans and no shoes. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of college. He is intelligent. Kind of esoteric and very, very bright.
He became a Christian while attending college. Across the street from the campus is a well-dressed, very conservative church. They want to develop a ministry to the students, but are not sure how to go about it.

One day Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt, and wild hair. The service has already started, so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat. The church is completely packed and he can’t find a seat. By now people are really looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything. Bill gets closer to the pulpit, and when he realizes there are no seats, he just squats down right on the carpet. (Although perfectly acceptable behavior at a college fellowship, this had never happened in this church before!)

By now the people are really uptight, and the tension in the air is thick.
About this time, the minister realizes that from way at the back of the church, a deacon is slowly making his way toward Bill. Now the deacon is in his eighties, has silver-gray hair, and a three-piece suit. A godly man, very elegant, very dignified, very courtly. He walks with a cane and, as he starts walking toward this young man, everyone is saying to themselves that you can’t blame him for what he’s going to do. How can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid on the floor?
It takes a long time for the deacon to reach the young man. What would he do? He walked up to the young man, and sat down beside him. He introduced himself and let him know that he wouldn’t be sitting alone.

This right here is an example of taking one’s theology out for a test drive.  We can be as conservative and Bible-believing as possible, but if we’re not using this to serve others, then no one will know or care about our beliefs.

We need servant leaders.  Pray for the leaders of your church!

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